The backbone of the College of Law’s mission is to provide students with a world-class legal education and to play a role in the advancement of the public good. These goals are at work throughout everything we do, but nowhere are these joint goals better realized than in our clinics.
This past summer, students in the Immigration Law Clinic put the skills they learned from Clinic Director Lauren Aronson to work to help two clients gain asylum in the United States. Through their hard work, justice was served and two individuals are able to continue their lives free from persecution.
“It is truly humbling to realize that my work, through the Immigration Law Clinic, has drastically changed or has the potential to change someone else’s life for the better,” student attorney Matt Musipa ’23 said.
The first case involved Murathan Oktar, an LLM student at the University of Loyola School of Law. Hailing from Turkey, Oktar’s family was targeted by the Justice and Development Party of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in their crackdown on the Gülen movement. The student attorneys on Oktar’s case were Fidel Hinojosa ’22 and Marija Todorceva ’23, and Julie Stankiewicz ’23 and Daniella Gonzalez ’23 helped with paperwork and interview preparation over the summer for his interview on June 14.
The case was not without its drama, however, as the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services interview was arranged without a Turkish translator. Though Oktar speaks English, his preference was to conduct the asylum interview in his native language, and he credits the clinicians for helping him overcome this obstacle.
“After the first meeting with Lauren I thought, ‘She knows what she is talking about and what is going on in Turkey.’ And I can say that all the students were always well studied and ready for the case and detailed whenever we had meetings. All these things made me confident with myself so my interview was so smooth even if we could not find a Turkish translator,” Oktar said. “But I think the most important thing is they believed in my case and my family’s struggles in Turkey, so immediately they started to help with all their hearts.”
The second successful case from the Immigration Law Clinic involved a young woman from Ethiopia who was seeking to stay in the United States. In the Tigray region, where the client was born and her family still resides, a conflict between the Ethiopian government and the Tigrayan people has killed thousands since fighting began in November 2020.
Through their research on the conflict to aid the client’s case, student attorneys Stankiewicz and Musipa helped the client, who wishes to keep her identity confidential, achieve a level of comfort with her decision to seek asylum, and thus not return to her homeland, and with the process itself.
“It was surprising how compassionate the lawyers were to help me fully understanding the impact [the war] has had on me,” the client said. “This then led me to open up and fully comprehend the extent of the situation at hand.”
When the interview date was assigned for the asylum case, it came more quickly than anticipated on June 7, just a few months after application. But thanks to the students’ diligent preparation and compassion, the timeline was not an issue for anyone involved.
“I came from an understanding that the asylum application was indefinite, and it was comforting of the lawyers to first disprove misinformation that had led me to think so, then share the hope, anticipation, and excitement of the process,” the client said. “I couldn't have gone through it alone; it was truly the best team ever.”
Stankiewicz demurred on credit for the victory, however.
“There are so many steps in the process and not always is it the case that the work me and my partner put in would be the judge of whether the client gets asylum,” she said of her work in these cases.
To get the successful outcome, and the email from the client afterward that read “YAY” was an experience she will never forget.
“Being able to take the clients through the steps and have a success story is really cool,” Stankiewicz added.
The College of Law extends sincere congratulations to both successful clients and the student attorneys that helped them with their cases.